Vienna's Ringroad (Die Ringstrasse)
This road encircles the 1st district of Vienna like a ring - hence the name "Ringroad". Viennese say you can never get lost in the 1st district as wherever you go you will eventually always hit the "Ringroad" if you have lost your orientation. The 'Ringroad' is 4 miles (6 kilometers) of sheer extravagance, built at the end of the 19th century by the last Austrian Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef. His aim was to build the most grand and magnificent boulevard of the world - and he sort of achieved this! In 1857 the entire former city fortifications was torn down and replaced with this beautiful road and an accumulation of astonishing buildings.
The best way of exploring the Ring Road is on foot, especially if you have the time and the energy and don't necessarily want to view anything in great detail - you will find one major sight after another. Another option is to choose public transport, the bike or one of the hop-on/hop-off buses for example, but be aware that you might feel you're at a tennis match with eyes-left/eyes-right all the way round.
The Opera was the first building of importance to be completed so it's a good place to start.
The original State Opera House was not welcome by the Viennese when it was build - many thought this neo-romantic building was plain ugly and criticism was hard. Nevertheless the opera was inaugurated in 1869 with Mozart's Don Giovanni. It is today one of the most famous and well known international opera houses of the world hosting some of the best performances with the world best artists. You need to book tickets weeks in advance, or be prepared to pay a stiff price when you get them from the concierge at some of the leading Viennese hotels. They mostly have some tickets to spare. For the real freaks (most local Viennese are) there is a possibility to follow the performance from stance places - you just need to queue up for them, or hire a student to do it for you. These tickets are really cheap and a good option. Be aware that you need to dress nicely when going to the opera - jeans and t-shirt are an absolute no-go!
Today the Opera is also known for hosting the famous Opera Ball, a huge social event happening in the carnival season (February) where the dress code is evening dress: white tie and tails for men; floor-length ballgowns for women.
Head off in a clockwise direction and, after the statues of two great German authors Goethe (to the right) and Schiller (to the left), you'll come to the gardens of the Imperial Palace (right), with the statue of Mozart.
Following the Imperial Gardens you will reach the great Palace Gate leading into the Hofburg complex (both right).
The Imperial Palace (Hofburg)
Hofburg Palace is a magnificent palace that has housed some of the most powerful people in Austrian history, including the Habsburg dynasty. It currently serves as the official residence of the President of Austria - who uses it for mostly representative reasons. In former times it was the Habsburgs' principal winter residence, as the Schönbrunn Palace was their preferred summer residence.
The Hofburg area has been the documented seat of government in Austria since the late 13th century for various empires and republics. The "Hofburg Complex" consists of many buildings and palaces and has been expanded over the centuries. Today it consists mostly museums you can visit - the most important being:
- The Imperial Chapel (Augustinerkirche) with excellent choir concerts every Saturday mornings at 11.00am,
- Several museums (Naturhistorisches Museum & Kunsthistorisches Museum),
- The impressive Imperial Library ,
- The Imperial Treasury where all incredibly valuable Habsburg treasures are on display,
- The Burgtheatre (one of the most famous theatres in the German speaking countries),
- The Spanish Riding School (Hofreitschule) with their magnificent horse stables,
- The Hofburg Congress Center (located in the old representative halls of the Imperial Palace).
A visit to all of these venues is nearly impossible on a short weekend! It might be a good idea to refer to our TOP ATTRACTIONS section - you will be able to cover the most important stuff! But - if you have the time and energy, definitely check out the Hofburg website - you will find all details on tours and opening hours there.
Opposite the Hofburg gate you will see the almost mirror images of the Natural History and the Fine Art Museums, with the statue of Empress Maria Theresia between them.
This wonderful Museum of Fine Arts was built in the end of the 19th century with one aim only: to house the extensive collections of the imperial family. With its vast array of eminent works and the largest Bruegel collection in the world, it is considered one of the most eminent museums in the world. It houses works of art by Rubens, Rembrandt, Dürer, Titian and Tintoretto. Definitely also worth mentioning is their Collection of Sculpture and Decorative Arts - one finds exceptional rarities from the art collections of the Habsburgs here, not to mention many treasures of important ancient Egyptian cultures and Near Eastern cultures. If you need more information check their website.
Following the Ring Road around the corner you see the beautiful Greek style Parliament with Athena outside (left)
The famous Danish Architect Theophil Edvard Hansen build this magnificent building in Greek style in the late 19th century. He designed the building holistically, each element harmonizing with the others.... and nobody was allowed to interrupt "his architectural concept"! He was therefore also responsible for all its interior decoration: he designed the statues, paintings, the furniture, the chandeliers, etc.... Hansen was so successful, and the Viennese like his work so much, that he was ennobled by Emperor Franz Joseph with the title of a Freiherr (Baron) after the building was finished. One of the most famous features of the Parliament today is the "Athena fountain" in front of the main entrance - a notable Viennese attraction for visitors as much as for locals...they often use it to take a "night dip" after touring the neighbouring nightclubs and bars in summer (this is not allowed - so do not do as the locals do!)
Right next to the Parliament you will be able to visit the equally impressive neo-Gothic Town Hall.
This Gothic Town Hall was built again in the late 19th century. On the top of the tower is the Rathausmann, one of the symbols of Vienna (quite a funny looking figure....). Facing the Rathaus is one of the beautiful Viennese parks, the Rathauspark, a huge square that hosts many of the best events in Vienna throught the year (check our events section!). The Rathaus also hosts the historic 'Wiener Rathauskeller' restaurant. This is one of Vienna's most traditional restaurants, it is quite big and you dine in one of several big baroque halls (not everybody's taste) - but the food is great!
On the right you'll can find the Volksgarten – people's garden – famous for its roses in the right season (to the right), the Burgtheater – our National Theatre – and one of Vienna's famous coffee houses, the "Landtmann" - here you meet all of Austria's politicians and journalist having coffee, lunch or meetings - of course, the Parliament is just next door.......and our MPs prefer to do their negotiations in public, enjoying a great cup of coffee!
The next point of interest is the Main University of Vienna (left) - a grand building where many would have like to study (not often does one get that magnificent buildings to study in these days...) and as you carry on, look off to the left to see will see impressive spires of the Votivkirche, another of the landmark churches in Vienna.
If you continue down the ringroad you'll come to the former stock exchange (right - today used as a restaurant, shops and office building) and the former imperial military barracks, called Arsenal (left) before finally reaching the Danube Canal - its quay offering a great location for many bars and pubs and definitely not only a great nightlife spot to visit - but also a cool and hip place to hang out during the day and get a bit of a tan.....try out the quay bars and restaurants at the "Summerstage" - a great nightlife district!
Go along the canal as far as the Observatory (Urania) and turn right back onto the Ringroad. Again you will find yourself surrounded by magnificent buildings, manors and palaces. You will pass the outstanding War Museum as well as the statue of our famous war General Radetzky (left - the famous Radetzky march was composed after him), the beautiful Museum of Applied Art MAK (exhibiting many great contemporary museums) and you will finally.....